But now the rain shivers down and the trails are silent, providing an excellent opportunity to view wildlife.

But a winter visit offers a rare retreat with wildlife.

Most of the refuge's 40,000 human visitors prefer friendlier weather. There are days ahead when the trails and educational areas will teem with students studying, testing, learning. The new Wildlife Center, with exhibits, classrooms and a store, opens next month. Refuge officials hope that eventually 200,000 people will visit yearly.

The oak savanna is one of the refuge's restoration projects. Graceful, mature savannas are almost extinct in the Willamette Valley. They are found most often on south facing slopes. So are vineyards.

Day starts dramatically at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge, but few humans are here to marvel at it. Just refuge staff arriving early to work. A birdwatcher holding an umbrella, spotting scope trained on the eagles.

A winter's refuge

In winter, the refuge offers peace, to wildlife and human alike.

An urban refuge charged with being equal parts preservation and education, the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge stands wild in a land of strip malls, residential neighborhoods and roadways.

The Canada geese: cackling, Taverner's, western, lesser, dusky.

The songbird nest is perfectly designed, tucked in the head high notch of a young cottonwood. The leaves that once hid the nest have been stripped away.

Refuge Director Ralph Webber has a prime view from his office in the low roofed refuge headquarters: The lake, which rises and falls with the rains. Savanna to the northeast. Forest to the north. He has watched black tailed deer, mink, weasel, river otter. He recalls with smiling wonder the red fox that skittered in and out of sight.

On special winter days, 50,000 birds have been counted at the refuge.

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Then, improbably and comically the creaking song of a frog.

Gadwall. Mallard. Pied billed grebe. Ring necked duck. Ruddy duck. Bufflehead. Pintails, everywhere, their signature pointed feathers in the air as they dabble for food.

It tells us to slow down, to step quietly and to open our eyes.

The refuge can't return to its natural state, but it has restored the hydrology the cycles of wet and slow Canada Goose Hybridge Jacket Australia Shop drying. Native plants germinate and fruit to feed birds and, in turn, the birds' predators, during the dark days of winter.

The refuge manages 1,350 acres. A slice of that part of the Atfalat'i Unit is open to the public, although some trails are closed in the winter to protect wildlife. More than 3,000 acres within the refuge acquisition boundary are privately owned, but could join the refuge in the future.

"This was a dairy when it was purchased, and it was all in field corn," Webber says of the 1992 establishment of one of the few urban refuges in the nation. "Back then, they counted 24 species and about 300 to 400 birds.

Raptors are familiar winter residents. A rough legged hawk swoops low, hunting rodents. A pocket size kestrel watches with fierce eyes from the point of an oak branch.

"Now, about 20,000 birds winter here, and they've counted 185 species," he says. "We're seeing species that haven't been seen in Washington County in 100 years."

Development is everywhere: Tigard to the north, Sherwood to the south, King City to the east. The young Willamette pondorosa pines can't hide the automobile recycling yard, and tall street lights reflect on the refuge's ponds. The constant traffic on 99W becomes white noise.

Fur traders arrived to take the plentiful beavers and river otters. European settlers conquered nature, draining the land for cultivation.

Look up. A pair of red tailed hawks perch above the Tualatin River.

Coyote scat on the gravel. It is full of hair rabbit? Opossum?

The trail winds into a forest of firs and maples shaggy with ferns and moss. A Douglas squirrel dashes across the path. Gnawed twigs stripped of their bark float in a pool created by a new beaver dam on Chicken Creek.

Historically, the Tualatin River backed into Chicken and Rock creeks during winter rains, creating the largest flood plain of any tributary to the Willamette River.

Out on the lake, the eagle pair still haven't moved.

The refuge savanna is an infant it won't mature for hundreds of years. But already it supports wildlife.

The Tualatin River has come down from its flood levels earlier this month, but it still runs muddy. Turn, and the ground seems to come alive. A flock of Oregon juncos, black capped and silvery tan, forages among bent grass and thistles.

Some mornings, the lake below the refuge offices is black with waterfowl.

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